Stellenbosch

Hungover and tired beyond belief, I stumbled into Stellenbosch. After a lovely shower and giant bottle of water, I decided to go roam around the town. I usually have a great sense of direction, but maybe being South of the Equator tripped me up. I’m also a little ornery when it comes to turning. When I’m faced with a situation of going left or right, I always choose left because it is different and the unexpected. Most people will turn right. Don’t believe me? Go to a grocery store, the entire store is built on the assumption that people take right turns. In this case though, turning left wasn’t the greatest idea. I got lost in town and ended up in a seedy section of Stellenbosch. Thank god for GPS on my phone otherwise I might have ended up in some sort of awful situation. YAY TECHNOLOGY. After getting back on the right path, I discovered that the nice part of town comprised of maybe 3 streets. Bummer. I did find a great place for lunch though. I had some tasty pizza with sour cream on it.

Do you have any idea how amazing sour cream tastes when you haven’t had anything even remotely close to it in over a year? Do you have any idea how ridiculous it looks to scrape all the sour cream off your pizza and eat it with a spoon? Do you have any idea how much I cared?

In Stellenbosch, I did find a really quaint little bookshop which oozed old world charm. Plush couch and rickety bookshelves, it almost looked Harry Potteresque. I found the perfect gift for my mom there, one of her favorite books – the Little Prince – in Afrikaans. I mailed it a few days later and it got there the day before her birthday – gotta admit, one of my greater deeds.

I kinda just hung out that day, didn’t really do much. For dinner I had a burger at a pub, the burger had bacon and cheese on it. The cheese was definitely mac and cheese sauce though. Not going to lie, I ate it thinking “why haven’t we Americans figured this out yet? This is amazing!”

The next day was my wine tour. Starting out from the hostel, there was a group of 6 of us, and we picked up two more. Two British girls, a British couple, a Dutch man, and a Swed with an American lady. The Swed looked like someone had just ripped him off a 1900s coal fired train and said “come drink wine.” The day was rainy and cold, which turns out is perfect wine weather.

The first place we went to, Tokara, was really impressive. In the front there is this beautiful metal tree with lots of branches. The branches were covered in words made to look like leaves. I have no clue what the whole meaning was, but it was really interesting. At Tokara we learned a bit about wine making. White wine takes less time to make compared to red. When you make red wine, you keep the skins of the grape after you press it – that’s what gives it the color and the health benefits. Of course the skins don’t make to the bottle. This is probably a “no shit” to everyone else on this planet, but the name of the wine comes from the variety of grapes. I have no idea why I never connected the two. Pinot noir wine comes from pinot noir grapes. It was definitely one of those “oooooooooh. Can you check my hair, did I just grow blonde?” moments. At Tokara we tried 5 wines. We got to pick from a list of about 15, including from the expensive bottles. We learned the proper way to taste a wine too, and now I can look pompous when drinking wine! You twirl the glass to aerate the wine. Tilt the glass toward your nose and take a nice big whiff of that baby. You may repeat. Then take a small sip, making a fish mouth you suck in air to further aerate the wine, basically gargling the wine. Then you swirl it around your mouth to make sure it covers your entire tongue. Then swallow. Of course you have to wait for the aftertaste. Sometimes you can taste hints of this or that, but honestly you are just deciding whether or not it tastes good. It may be the most expensive bottle of wine on the planet, but if it doesn’t taste good what’s the point of drinking it? Wine is supposed to taste delectable and when paired with food, bring out the food’s flavors.

So at Tokara, I quickly discovered that I’m not a fan of white wine. Before this wine tour, I wouldn’t even touch red wine. I hated the taste, I hated dry wine. What was the point of drinking something if it made your mouth dry? Let’s bring this back home for a minute – cashews. Cashews changed my palate. How so? Cashew apples. Cashew apples are high in tannins and very astringent. After eating an apple, you are guzzling water because your mouth feels like it is full of cotton. Over the course of the season, I developed a taste for the cashew apples, including their dry mouth inducing properties. During the hot season, it is a good way to get nutrients and remind yourself to drink copious amounts of water. So, back to Stellenbosch. I tried a few white wines and I just wasn’t loving it. So I tried some red wines and BAM. It was like the gates to heaven opened up and out poured fountains of rainbows and wine. At Tokara, I noted that their Shiraz was really good. Later on, I went to a wine store and picked up a bottle because I regretted not buying one. Another variety I tried was Pinotage – a South African hybrid grape that has been developed to grow in the sandy Southern Hemisphere soils of the Zudafrika. A combo of pinot noir and hermitage, this variety is AMAZING. Shiraz is spicy and harsher (mainly because it isn’t aged as long in barrels. Aging in barrels helps wine to have a smoother, friendlier taste. It doesn’t age as much once bottled – the real aging occurs beforehand. ALSO. Once you buy a bottle of wine, it needs to be stored properly in good conditions, otherwise it will turn to vinegar. A lot of wine really only has a shelf life of about 5-7 years anyway, so just because that bottle says 1986 doesn’t mean it is better.) I really like Pinotage because it just tastes good.

On to the next place, Boschendahl. One of the more famous wine estates in South Africa. No one from our group liked any of the wines. At all the other places, you got to pick which wines you wanted to try, at Boschendahl they picked for you. The good thing about this place though, was we all got to know each other a little better. Turns out the girl I was sitting next to, one of the Brits, used to live in Ghana for a short period of time. She volunteered near Accra. It was great to chat with someone who actually knew about Ghana. Small world.

We moved on to lunch after this place and the entire table grilled me about life in Ghana. They really wanted to know what it was like when I get sick. Why they were so fascinated, I have no idea. It took me forever to eat my burger because everyone kept asking me questions. Afterwards, I popped into a little chocolate shop to grab some truffles before heading to the next wine estate. It was an excellent idea, they were divine.

On to the next one! Dieu Dome. Little place in the hills, they were known for their red wines. Their merlot was excellent and a few people bought a bottle. At this place we got to try 6 in addition to the champagne they gave us upon arriving. You might be thinking, “wow, is she drunk by this point?” NO! They give you enough wine for about 2 or 3 sips, really really small amounts. I felt smiley and happy, but not even tipsy. At Dieu Dome, they had this really cool chandelier with grape bunches as the crystals, it was pretty cool.

The last place we went was Fairview, another famous South African winery. This place was pretty busy, we cozied up to the wine tasting area and had a pretty good looking wine pouring dude (official title). The British girls were flirting with him (thank you!) so he just sorta kept the wine coming. Pouring more than our 6 allowed tastings. I liked a lot of the wines from Fairview, they were pretty damn good. The Stellenbosch Merlot, and Sweet Red were really tasty as was the Riesling. Maybe it is a product of my upbringing, growing up as a kid in Germany spending weekends on the Rhine, but I have some sort of pull towards Riesling. It is the only white wine I like anymore. Anyway, Fairview had a huge selection of wines to taste and we tried a fair few (see what I did there?!). We also did a cheese tasting there and if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you will know that “cheese tasting” and “this girl” would probably be all it takes to get me on a date. One cheese we tried tasted like raspberry cheesecake and mild blue cheese all at the same time. I went back for more.

By the time Fairview’s wine was exhausted, so were we. Finally starting to feel the effects of a good imbibing day, I took a nice little nap on the ride back. For dinner, I joined some of my new friends at a local pizza haunt. It was FREEZING outside so we shared a carafe of wine. What else? The pizza was incredible and the place a a true local favorite. We were the only tourists there in a room full of 100 locals. That’s what I love about travelling, seeing what locals do. Where do the locals eat? Where do the locals hang out? You want to feel like you are a part of a town or a city, not that you are just on the outside looking in.

After dinner, I sat by the fire with some of my new friends and we chatted for a while about development, Ghana, the Netherlands, history, and wine. Great conversations with cool people. What a great day.

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